When Capital One set out to endear itself with entrepreneurs, it enlisted Forbes to create blog posts on its behalf about cybercrime and other scourges of small business. Likewise, UPS entrusted Fast Company to create custom infographics that ran on the business brand’s site. In both cases, it was the publishers, not these brands’ creative agencies, who did the heavy lifting. In fact, that dynamic is becoming more common as native ads grow in popularity.
“Publishers know their audience best,” said Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen, which uses native ads for a number of clients.
One premium publisher whose site runs a lot of native ads estimated that more than one-third of those campaigns are done in-house or by the client and don’t involve a creative agency at all. The publisher, who didn’t want to be named because, like others, he wanted to avoid appearing to be dumping on creative shops, nevertheless said his staff can do the work at Web-speed and cheaper than a creative agency.
Those shops “work on the basic assets and distribute them to the brands so they are still core to the overall look and feel of the campaign, but they lose out on the custom creative fees as brands can do it way cheaper for clients than they can,” the exec said. “As native ads grow…creative shops lose control and become less relevant to the clients.”
Clients also are taking on more of the load. Mark Howard, svp of digital ad strategy at Forbes Media, estimated that with about half the clients using Forbes’ BrandVoice blogging platform, the point person overseeing the campaign is someone from the client rather than an agency.
Some believe there’s still an important role, even if smaller, for creatives to play in native advertising. “I still think the client wants them to be involved to make sure the brand messaging stays intact cross-platform,” said Yale Cohen, vp, Zenith Media.
Dave Marsey, svp and digital lead for Digitas, said that agencies like his will still have a part in making sure the ad drives consideration and leads to sales. When Buzzfeed created a native ad for a client, Digitas was still involved in the content creation and direction.
“With all due respect to my friends at the Buzzfeeds and Forbes and Mashables of the world, they don’t have the ability to have the deep knowledge of our clients…they don’t eat, breathe the client like we do,” Marsey said. “I look at those writing staffs as a way to augment what we do and give us something to react to. The agency is in the driver’s seat.”
Signs point to native advertising growing—an online survey of 800 stakeholders by Solve Media found that 49 percent of media buyers planned to make native ad purchases in 2013, and 40 percent have set aside more than 10 percent of their ‘13 budgets for native—and as it does, threatening an already vulnerable traditional agency model.